In my earlier post, I described why I thought the idea that the umpire is not always right should be not about the umpires, but the good of the game, even though we all love to whinge about bad decisions. I referred to what I see as an increasing emphasis on individual umpires and linked it to a serious desire for better standards. Soulberry's comment on the banality of rejecting mediocrity expresses the point.
So how can we take the spotlight off the umpires, resulting in a quality meal rather than disappointment and discussion about the cooking process? There are many suggestions, and no cure-all, but I'd like to offer some thoughts on what this means in a world where umpires are by no means faceless.
To start with, this means choosing and training the umpires who will perform best. We are all ready to criticise, but unless there is someone who will perform better, it doesn't mean much. There are many theories, and many comments that miss the mark. For example, while it may be true that first-class playing experience makes better umpires, it is hardly helpful for a former player to come out and imply that players should respect other umpires less. If umpires need to appreciate the experience of players, perhaps Tony Greig should hold his mouth on umpiring until he has tried it himself. He is not the only one who makes demands of umpires without understanding the demands of the job.
Any strategy begins before the Test level, but it appears to me that perhaps the Elite Panel aren't performing even to their own usual standards. That would hardly be surprising. In the last four years, for example, Simon Taufel has umpired in only 10 less international games than Sachin Tendulkar has played (1 Test less). Yes, it is easier to avoid a mistake on a single ball as an umpire than a batsman, but umpiring requires even more concentration over a whole day or days. Consider also the strains that touring places on a player. Many of these also affect an umpire, yet while Tendulkar played 57 of his 119 matches in India, Taufel has travelled away from home and family for all but 14 of his matches, often rushing from one side of the world. That isn't counting TV umpire duties or domestic games, which top umpires these days show up for more often than top players do.
I'm not sure what sort of standard we can expect. All umpires strive to get every single detail correct, down to no balls and short runs, while most public concern is about dismissals. In any case, they are servants of the game, not part of the contest, and it is fairly clear that the cricketing community is demanding that umpires make far fewer errors than players do, and fewer than are currently made. Surely that means placing at least as much importance on training and rest as on having neutral umpires. In any case, when we need to give the umpires a face, it means not just listing mistakes and victims, but building up a capable team and understanding their limitations.